Dan Patrick, a Republican from Houston, enjoyed a triumph Thursday when the Texas Senate passed SB-2, his bill that lifts the cap on the number of charter schools in the state—in yearly increments, from 215 today to 305 in 2019.
Patrick, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, has made charters his top priority of the session. He has said that nearly 100,000 Texas students are on waiting lists to be admitted to charters, and his committee hearings on the subject have occasionally become quite emotional. He describes access to charters in terms of social justice, and with the passage of SB-2 the state is now, he said on the floor, “one step closer to the Texas-American dream.”
The Democratic senators, several of whom have locked horns with Patrick over his various education reform proposals over the course of the session thus far—including this one—were one step closer to their dreams of bipartisan cooperation. The bill passed yesterday was significantly different from the bill as introduced. Some oddities of the initial bill, such as a provision that would have required public schools to sell any extra facilities to would-be charters for peanuts, were removed. The idea of doing away with the cap on charters altogether, which Patrick had initially suggested, was scuttled in favor of the incremental increases that the bill now calls for. The measure also makes it easier to close struggling charters and to consolidate duplicate charter licenses, so the actual number of new charter schools in Texas will presumably be greater than ten per year. Several of Patrick’s colleagues alluded to those discussions on the floor. “I want to introduce the new Dan Patrick,” said Royce West, a Democrat from Dallas, on the floor.
Helping SB-2’s prospects, too, was the fact that although expanding the charter school system isn’t entirely uncontroversial, charters are less contentious than vouchers—and the lege is also considering a proposal, also from Patrick, to expand the latter. Charter schools are still part of the public school system, even if they’re not traditional. And they don’t raise some of the concerns that vouchers do, as BurkaBlog described earlier this week. So SB-2 has always had better prospects than Patrick’s vouchers bill, SB-23, although the latter was passed out of the Senate education committee yesterday. That was especially true once the Democrats found they had some room to negotiate with Patrick.
The result was a bill that both sides could agree with. SB-2 passed the Senate by a 30-1 vote and garlanded with praise. Such lovefests have not been an uncommon occurrence in the Texas Senate in 2013; it wasn’t even the only lovefest that chamber hosted on Thursday. Of note, however, is that even Wendy Davis—a Democrat from Fort Worth who frequently locks horns with Patrick on education policy—was moved to compliment the chairman, which triggered an additional burst of praise from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who complimented Davis on her compliment. Not an exaggeration: “I want to compliment you on your compliments,” he said.
The lone nay came, somewhat mysteriously, from Robert Nichols, a Republican from Jacksonville. SB-2 now goes to the House.